Review of New Outkast Album Idlewild

When Outkast released their double disc, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below in the fall of 2003, it seemed to bring an entirely new consciousness with it. It was a creative stretch, even for this innovative duo, tapping into every fathomable genre of music it could muster up. It bounced smoothly around from lounge to funk to rhythm and blues, intertwining them all within Outkast’s signature hip-hop beats.

Times were good and everyone was bumping this gem in their car stereos. This came as no surprise, and seemed to be the expected fashion given the similar circumstances surrounding the popularity of their prior discs, Stankonia, Aquemini, ATLiens and Southernplayalisticadillacmusik-all fresh sounding works which would soon become classics.

Fast-forward two years and eleven months. Outkast releases a new album that bares the same name as a film that would follow about a week later: Idlewild. And while the idea of releasing this project in two separate mediums seems like yet another progressive step for Outkast, the album reviews that filtered in the week before all of this seemed to be generally less than flattering.

Fortunately or not, it can be suspected that these mediocre to downright nasty words are merely the perpetual effect of a few naysayers in a jaded world, looking to determine pass�© the heroes of old, for the sake of appearing to be on the cusp of new ideas. I am here to tell you quite simply, that they are wrong.

Truth be told, Idlewild, the record, is more of an acquired taste than Outkast’s former efforts. It does indeed take a few listens through to fully grasp the terseness of this otherwise heavy disc. And heavy it is, with twenty-five tracks that culminate to a moody, gritty, Zappa-esque ender entitled “A Bad Note.” Only sparse and sporadic rays of light seep in among any of the songs before this. For example, on “The Train” we are subjected to a rundown of the Outkast success story, which reminds us “you can achieve anything that you put your heart in to.” However the chorus of the song goes on to imply that while the past is still the past, the future may be a bit too bleak for the dynamic duo to continue on any further (It’s been a good long road/Now it’s time for me to go/I say goodbye).

Disturbing implications, indeed-especially to those of us who believe that Outkast might be well on their way to completely revolutionizing the music industry, if not setting off the rapture. And yet some of the dark outlook ends up enlightening the listener in this very way. Take, for instance, “Hollywood Divorce” on which our heroes criticize the corporate celebrity exploitation of, well, pretty much everything. Both Snoop Dogg and Lil’ Wayne weigh in on this track, which seems a bit ironic at first, but ultimately refreshing as they denounce the commercially watered down state of rap music today, which was admittedly created in part by their blingin’ pasts.

Lyrics aside, the music on this disc is a bit of a mixed bag. Very little of it is actually used in the film, making it a record of music inspired by the film rather than a tangible sound track. In this regards, the bulk of it does effectively seem to capture the feel of the 1930’s prohibition era in which the film is set-with an Outkast twist, of course. Despite this, it is without the strong start of prior efforts. Not that “Mighty O,” the album’s first full-length track is a bad song, it simply doesn’t hit with the ferocity or astonishment that Outkast listeners have come to expect. Once past that first gate, however, the album takes off in several more captivating directions.

Over its duration, they channel the ghosts of the blues (“Idlewild Blue,”), funk (“Buggface”), jazz (“Makes No Sense at All”), gospel (“Mutron Angel”) and even Broadway show tunes (“Call the Law”) among other more ambiguous genres. The last quarter of the disc, with the exception of Andre 3000’s lounge ditty “When I Look in Your Eyes” seems to be saturated by some of the most biting and sinister efforts. Over this stretch, Whild Peach handles the bulk of music on “Mutron Angel,” which seems to convey a feeling hopeful confusion, and Macy Gray lends her vocals to the watery circus track, “Greatest Show on Earth.”

All in all, Idlewild is by no means a shoddy piece, especially when compared to the standard of rap and hip hop music found on the radio. It is rather dark and a bit more mature than past albums. And perhaps this maturity may largely mask the spontaneity, whimsy and edge that were so abundant back then. It is still an evolution, no matter how you look at it-or how many times you have to listen to it before you love it.

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